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Jacobite Cess Roll of 1715

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Rebellions cost money. No one was more aware of this than John Erskine, Earl of Mar (1675–1732), when he raised the banner for “King James 3rd and 8th” at Braemar on September 6, 1715, thus inciting the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. When he needed to raise money from the landowners in Aberdeenshire, he naturally turned to the “cess” or tax collector, John Forbes of Boyndlie.

Even though Mar claimed the support of James Francis Edward Stuart, son of the deposed James II and VII, he did not receive official approval until October 3, 1715. On the very next day, October 4, 1715, Mar used his military power and authority to usurp the taxation process in Scotland and ordered that the landowners pay him -- rather than the government -- their usual tax of six months based on the value of their land. A “cess” was a land tax that was assessed by the Government in each county from 1667 onwards. The “cess rolls” list the owners of landed estates and assess the rental value of their lands. In 1715, the tax was equal to twenty shillings on each hundred pound Scots of valued rent.

On October 27, 1715, Mar issued the additional order that "Our Sovereign Lord James the Eight having been pleased to in trust me with the direction of his affairs and the Command of his forces in Scotland, And it being absolutely necessary to raise money for their support and maintenance, These are therefore in his Majesty's name requiring and commanding that all men betwixt sixty and sixteen years of age within the Shyre do forthwith repair to the Camp at Perth or where the army shall be for the time, with their best cloaths, horses and arms and fforty days provisions on loan at six shillings Scots a day, or otherwwys that every heretor feuar or wadsetter pay 6 months cess.” (Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta; The Jacobite Cess Roll for the County of Aberdeen in 1715, Third Spalding Club, 1932.) In addition, he ordered "That you exact of all the heritors who do not attend the King's standard, twelve months Cess within the Shyre…” (Ibid.) This forced the landowners to either support the Jacobite cause or pay twice their “cess” or land tax.

John Forbes of Boyndlie

The individual charged with tracking and collecting this cess in Aberdeenshire was John Forbes of Boyndlie. Forbes was born in 1680 as the fourth son of Sir John Forbes, 3rd Baronet of Monymusk, and his second wife, Barbara Dalmahoy. John Forbes bought Upper and Nether (lower) Boyndlie from Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo, in 1711. According to Alistair and Henrietta Tayler, “John Forbes, who was the official collector of Cess for the County of Aberdeen, being a convinced Jacobite and recognising James Stuart as his lawful sovereign, naturally put all the machinery of his office at the disposal of Mar, and during the months of November and December collected the Single or Double amounts, that is six months' or twelve months' Cess, according to Mar's instructions.” (Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta; The Jacobite Cess Roll for the County of Aberdeen in 1715, Third Spalding Club, 1932.)

Forbes kept meticulous records of the cess paid by each landowner in the “synod” of Aberdeenshire. Synods were first instituted in the General Assembly of Glasgow in 1580 and were established as the units of Church government, instead of bishoprics. These have remained to the present day. In 1715, Aberdeenshire was organized into one synod with eight presbyteries (“presbritries”): Kincairden, Garrioch, Alford, Deer, Ellon, Turreff, Strathbogie, and Aberdeen. These presbyteries were subdivided into 97 parishes (“parochs.”)

Forbes also carefully noted the "Jacobites" (after the Latin name Jacobus for James) who paid the regular cess and those “Hanoverians” (those loyal to the current monarch George I, who was the great-grandson of James I and VI and also the hereditary Elector of Hanover) who paid the double cess. Many of the largest landowners paid cess in many different parishes. Forbes also accounted for the funds that he paid out.

The traditional feudal clan system had slowly disintegrated in the previous century and so clan chiefs no longer made decisions or determined loyalties for the entire clan. This was never so true as for the House of Forbes. Different members of the clan had divided loyalties between King George I and James Francis Edward Stuart. This is clearly indicated in the Aberdeen cess roll of 1715.

Those “Hanoverian” Forbeses who paid the double cess included:

• “Craigyvar” (Arthur Forbes of Craigievar), Fintray, Leuchel, and Cushny parishes

• John Forbes, Birss parish

• Foveran for Lord Pitsligo (Sir Samuel Forbes of Foveran, M.P), Aberdour parish

• Laird of Foveran (Sir Samuel Forbes of Foveran, M.P), Foveran and Mountquhitat parishes

The “Jacobite” Forbeses who paid the single cess included:

• Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo, Pitsligo and Tyrie parishes

• Alexander Forbes, 7th laird of Towie, Aucterless, Fyvie, and Tureff parishes

• Captain Forbes, Lumphannan parish

• Charles Forbes of Camphill, Lumphannan parish

• John Forbes of Invernan, Invernochty and Tarland parishes

• George Forbes 4th of Skellater, Tarland and Invernochty parishes

• Master Arthur Forbes, Alford parish

• Roderick Forbes of Brux, Cushny parish

• Roderick Forbes of Brux, Kinbetack parish

• William Forbes, 12th Laird of Tolquhon, Fyvie, Mountquhitat, Teff, and Kineward parishes

• William, 12th Lord Forbes, Auchindore, Clatt, Cluny, Forbes, Kearn, and Kincairden parishes

Source: Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta; The Jacobite Cess Roll for the County of Aberdeen in 1715, Third Spalding Club, 1932.

The eldest son of William, 12th Lord Forbes, was safely living in France. However, his second son James was a devoted Jacobite and quickly joined Mar’s efforts. Therefore, Lord Forbes could claim that his family was supporting the rebellion and pay the single cess. For his properties in six parishes in the presbyteries of Alford and Kincairden, Lord Forbes paid a total of over £2,132.

James was actively recruiting throughout Aberdeenshire. In fact, John Forbes of Boyndlie noted three payments of £50 each in cash to “Mr. James Forbes Commander of Independent Compy.” Ironically, while James was actively recruiting troops for Mar's rebellion, neither his father William, 12th Lord Forbes, or his brother William, 13th Lord Forbes, were considered Jacobites. (McDonnell, Frances; Jacobites of 1715: North East Scotland, St. Andrews, 1996.)

The Jacobite Uprising of 1715 was suppressed by the Battle of Preston on November 9 through 14, 1715. Several known Jacobites were forced to flee the country, including tax collector John Forbes of Boyndlie. His wife Susanna Morison Forbes recorded a memorial many years after his death: "In 1716 after sculking about in the Country for some months he found himself obliged, as many others were, to go out of the Island for some time at least, that he should see in what shape matters would settle and accordingly he left Scotland about the middle of November that year and in a few days after was unluckily washed overboard and drowned in a storm upon the Coast of Scotland, leaving four daughters, Christian, Barbara, Mary and Margaret, and three sons, Theodore, John and George, and the Memoralist with child of a fifth daughter who was born after his death and named Elizabeth.” (Papers at Fettercairn.)

John Forbes of Boyndlie, Collector

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